Sweet sounds of flute 217 miles overhead


Watch a 3-minute interview with astronaut Cady Coleman and listen to her play the flute in orbit.

We nailed it. Clear skies in the nick of time made it possible for me and my work colleagues to spot both the International Space Station (ISS) and Discovery shuttle from downtown Duluth yesterday evening.

Tonight the two ships will appear as single moving light after they dock this afternoon at 1:16 p.m. CST. If you happen to have a flyby for your location shortly before that time, you’ll see them neck in neck as they arc across the sky.

With a cloudy Earth as backdrop, Discovery makes its final rendezvous with the ISS this afternoon. Credit: NASA

As you follow the space station in the evenings ahead, picture a combined crew of 12 astronauts living and working there for the next 10 days. When astronaut Jeff Williams spoke in Duluth several weeks back, he described the arrival of a new crew like a visit from your family – you’re thrilled to see them again but happy when they finally leave for home.

Flight engineer Cady Coleman, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina and is currently aboard the ISS, likes to bring her flute along when she space travels. She owns several, including one played by Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull.

“It is really different to play up here,” Coleman said. “I’ve been having the nicest time up in our Cupola. I float around in there. A lot of the times I play with my eyes closed.”

Astronauts have plenty of free time when they’re on the ISS for months at a time. Playing a musical instrument makes the place feel a lot more like home.

Here are Central times for viewing ISS-Discovery from the Duluth area. For times for your town, click HERE and key in your zip code. The pair will travel from west to east across the northern sky.

* Tonight starting at 6:42 p.m. A bright pass!
* Sunday Feb. 27 at 7:08 p.m. The station will fade as it enters Earth’s shadow near the middle star in the Big Dipper’s handle.
* Monday Feb.28 at 7:35 p.m. Station fades and disappears about one outstretched fist below the North Star.
* Tuesday March 1 at 6:26 p.m. A second brief pass in the northwestern sky only begins at 8:01 p.m.
* Wednesday March 2 at 6:52 p.m.
* Thursday March 3 at 7:19 p.m.
* Friday March 4 at 6:09 p.m. at sunset. Bright pass but the sky may be too light to see. Second shorter pass in the northwest at 7:45 p.m.

As far as NanoSail-D I had no luck. Conditions were ideal, but nothing was visible, even in binoculars. Perhaps the sail passed over with its edge facing us making it too faint to see. Another observer wrote from Ohio that she was able to see it near Betelgeuse in Orion.

The Whirlpool Galaxy, located near the end of the Big Dipper's handle, is aptly named. One of its spiral arms extends in front of the companion galaxy NGC 5195. The Whirlpool is some 60,000 light years across or about 60% as big as the Milky Way and 23 million light years from Earth. Credit: NASA

My teeth were chattering last night after an hour and a half in 10 below temperatures observing Saturn, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and a new supernova in a distant galaxy in the constellation Crater the Cup. After packing the scope away, I stood outside a few more minutes and let myself feel winter’s knife-edge. Nature can really get intense, but that’s OK. There’s satisfaction in survival.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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